It's W again...back with some more deep thinking to cut the lighthearted air surrounding M's latest blog post.
This topic of forgiveness is something I have thought a lot about over the years, because I believe that I held some mistaken views about forgiveness--that is, until I was really challenged to forgive someone who hurt me deeply a few years back. As such, here's a short post of what I have learned about forgiveness in my adult life.
1. Forgiveness is not a one-time deal.
For some reason, I had come to believe, in my youth, that forgiving someone only took one prayer. Imagine my surprise when, after offering a prayer of forgiveness toward someone, I woke up the next morning feeling just as bitter and angry toward them as the day before. "But I forgave them last night! Lord, I told you I want to forgive them! Why do I still feel this way??" This feeling went on for days, weeks...probably months. I didn't realize that often, we as Christians must choose forgiveness day after day. It is not in our nature to let go of our hurts and offer grace to those who have hurt us, and therefore, we must learn how to do it an inch at a time as we look to the Lord for guidance and strength. The journey of forgiveness can be an exhausting one.
2. To forgive does not mean to condone.
I struggled with this for a long time. I constantly felt that by forgiving someone for what they had done, it meant that it was "okay" that they did it. I felt like if I forgave them, it gave them permission to do it again because they "got away with it" without consequences. Not true. Forgiveness instead says "I do not agree with what you have done, but I can separate you from your actions, and I will no longer hold against you the poor choices you may have made." Forgiveness does not necessarily mean letting the person back in your life, or letting the person off the hook for their actions, but rather letting go of the bitterness toward them.
3. Forgiveness is about reconciling yourself to God, not to the person who hurt you.
In my early struggles with forgiveness, I often felt like I couldn't forgive until I received an apology. This system works fine enough until you encounter a situation where an apology isn't given. It is then that you realize that forgiveness is not about "fixing" what's wrong between you and another person, but rather about realizing the depths of grace that you have been given from God, and using that grace to give to the other. If God can forgive me for X,Y, and Z bad choices...over and over and over again...then surely I can look past the faults of others.
4. Part of forgiveness is recognizing that we are not entitled to anything.
It's easy to feel bitter towards someone for "ruining" what we think we are owed, whether that may be a promotion, a great spouse, a healthy child, or anything of the like. However, when we really see ourselves in our true state, we realize that the only thing we "deserve"-- the only thing that we have ever "earned"-- is death from our sins. Everything else that we have is a gift on loan from our Creator. When we view our lives in this light, we stop holding others emotionally hostage for preventing us from getting more, more, more of this or better, better, better at that. As hard as it may be, when we realize that the Lord never promised us a healthy child, we can forgive the doctor who may have made a mistake. When we realize that Lord never promised us an important job, we can forgive the person who fired us to hire someone else. And believe me, I am the WORLD'S WORST at accepting this reality (see previous post about living after the Fall), but I do believe that this is a key to forgiveness.
I wish there was a 5th bullet point, just to round out the list, but there's not. And this, folks, is what I have learned about forgiveness over the last few years.